Skip to main content

Northern Ireland Statements

Volume 130: debated on Monday 21 March 1988

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

4.38 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I want to make it absolutely clear that I make absolutely no criticism of your position. This is a genuinely serious matter. Over the past 12 months I have sat through almost every statement on Ireland and have attended almost all the debates that have taken place. I want to draw your attention to a matter that worries me. It is one that is often discussed privately by my hon. Friends and is about the whole arrangement for calling hon. Members to ask questions about matters relating to Northern Ireland. We had a good example today.

We understand your difficulties, Mr. Speaker, because you feel that you have to call Northern Ireland Members. Today no Labour Back Benchers were called. I say again that we understand your dilemma, Mr. Speaker, but this matter is one for the whole of the United Kingdom. If, by any chance, you can hear us speaking among ourselves, you will know that we are commenting on the fact that we do not believe that the problems of Northern Ireland will be resolved by Northern Ireland Members coming to the House periodically to complain about what has happened during the course of these violent days. That is not the way forward. The time has come for other hon. Members, particularly on the Labour Benches, where there are many differing views, to be given the right to make their case. I regret that, once again, that has not been possible today.

Order. We have a heavy day ahead of us and the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) is one of those wishing to speak later, if he is lucky.

The Northern Ireland Members who have spoken today and told us that they live daily and nightly with this tragedy have a right to express their strong feelings. I fully understand that this is a United Kingdom matter, but I hope that the House agrees that those who are most directly affected and those who have lost constituents in such tragedies should take precedence.

I hope also that the House will realise that, if we were to have an extended question time on such matters., we would put in jeopardy those hon. Members who rightly believe that they should be called during the subsequent debate. It is question of balance and I do my best to ensure that.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. While supporting everything that you have just said, I ask you to bear in mind that the comments of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) apply equally to those Back Benchers on the Government side of the House, who represent other parts of the United Kingdom, feel equally strongly about the matter and have not had an opportunity to participate in the questioning.

I wish to ask for your ruling on two points. I believe that you were right to call those hon. Members who have spoken, but those of us who believe that a much tougher policy needs to be instituted immediately did not have an opportunity to put that point to you. You, Mr. Speaker, are uniquely sensitive to the mood of the House. You know the mood of the country after such events. If this were a unique occasion and you felt that you could and should do so, you would extend question time on this matter. I ask you to bear that point in mind. I know that you have not done so before, but, such is the mood of the House, that I urge you to give other hon. Members an opportunity to express their heartfelt view that we need to get tougher.

Order. That is enough. The hon. Gentleman is one of a number of hon. Members who have in the past written to me to express their distress at not being called in debates. It is difficult for the Chair to balance the rights of those hon. Members who wish to make speeches in a debate and those who wish to ask questions after statements.

Order. I am highly sensitive to the interests of the whole House in this matter, but I must balance the rare opportunities that hon. Members have to make speeches in this place. There are opportunities to raise points during questions on Northern Ireland. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman comes in for Northern Ireland questions, but I shall bear in mind those hon. Members who have not been called today when we next have Northern Ireland questions.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I support the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson). This problem is quite different from those we have faced in the past. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to reconsider the matter. We are now in our fourth day of debate on the Budget, in which I have had an opportunity to participate, but the horrors of Saturday put in context the issues of the Budget and suggest that all hon. Members, not only those directly concerned with Northern Ireland, should have an opportunity to speak.

I accept that, but the hon. Gentleman has already been called in the Budget debate. He must have regard to his right hon. and hon. Friends who have not yet had that opportunity.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We on the Official Unionist Bench fully understand the frustrations of hon. Members on both sides of the House who, because of pressure of time, cannot be called. In an effort to be helpful, I suggest that, as the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House are both present and can hear what I say, they might take the opportunity now to arrange a debate on this matter before the House rises for Easter, so that we may explore the differences between us.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Although I appreciate the great difficulties that you face at present, may I suggest that, when dealing with matters of great emotion, the normal rules of procedure should be adhered to even more strictly? Many of the points raised were not in the interrogative, but in the form of long statements. That makes it much more difficult for the Chair and limits the opportunity of other hon. Members to speak. The House should support you, Mr. Speaker, in trying to ensure that the interrogative and the proper aspects of procedure are used at such times.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I share the frustration of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), but I hope that the House will note that very few Northern Ireland Members have been called in the first 15 questions to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on Thursdays. We are not objecting to that. That is the way the House works and those of us who have come regularly to try to participate in the debate know how difficult it is to do so. That is the price of the House's democracy.

I fully understand the concern of the House about such matters. I hope that hon. Members understand the difficult position in which the Chair is placed in seeking to be fair to everyone.